Considering West Elk lineman Isaiahh Loudermilk’s closeness with his family, it made sense that he was accompanied by family members when he took his first football recruiting trips in the summer.
Ever since Loudermilk moved with his mother, brother and sister to Howard — a town about 70 miles east of Wichita, population 700 — as a second-grader, he has lived on the same block as his grandparents, aunt and uncle.
His grandparents went with him to Missouri, while his mom, aunt, uncle and cousin took the trip to Oklahoma State. It has been an exciting time; Loudermilk (6-foot-6, 275 pounds) has 13 offers from Bowl Subdivision programs.
But the need to be together was stronger this summer after the loss of Damon Wilson, Loudermilk’s 16-year-old cousin who was one of two boys who died in a May car accident. He was like a brother to Loudermilk.
Wilson’s absence left a crater-sized hole in the family. Mending that will take time, but the recruiting process has helped the family focus on the future.
“When Damon passed, we became even closer to where we didn’t want to really be apart,” said Loudermilk’s mother, Stacy Howell. “Damon was such an Isaiahh supporter. Once he passed, it became a family thing that we were going to help Isaiahh make this decision.”
Wilson’s oversized personality was a perfect foil for Loudermilk. As West Elk’s quarterback, Wilson routinely hyped-up the team before games by jumping on teammates.
In contrast, Loudermilk answers all recruiting questions in a quiet voice with a minimal number of words. If people don’t know who he is, even better.
“He has such a calming, gentle nature about him,” West Elk coach Chris Haag said.
But Wilson was quick to let everyone know about his cousin’s status as a football recruit. He informed everyone about what Loudermilk can do on the field, while also giving out detailed recruiting information.
Loudermilk’s mother, who works at Batson’s Drug Store in Howard, fields similar questions. Where’s his next visit? Have there been any new offers? What’s his favorite school? Has he committed?
Loudermilk, who helps coach youth football and basketball teams and is a lifeguard, is the person of interest in Howard.
“They are all very excited,” Howell said.
West Elk, which has kindergarten through 12th-grade classes in the same building, is an 8-Man Division I school.
And in Haag’s tenure — he’s in his 14th season as the Patriots’ coach — no player has come close to receiving a major-college scholarship.
“We felt like he had the ability,” Haag said. “It was tough; we had nothing to compare him to. We’ve had good players come through. Kids with (junior college) offers and KCAC (offers).
“… I told the coaches from Day 1 that we have a young man who can play Division I football, and if he can’t, we’ll never have one who can.”
Loudermilk’s draw is size — he has put on 40 pounds since last season and Haag thinks he can add another 50.
“It could be mind-boggling when he comes back after a year (in a college program), what he’ll look like,” Haag said. “People are amazed now at what a specimen he is.”
Loudermilk has more than an excellent physique.
“He’s just a man,” Haag said. “On the offensive line, you never have to worry about him missing an assignment or getting his guy blocked. He has such quick hands and quick feet.
“We face some quality football players. It might be 8-man football, but there’s quality players across the state. He’s just a beast.”
When West Elk needs a yard, the Patriots run behind Loudermilk.
“I don’t care if (opponents) know it,” Haag said. “We expect Isaiahh to get the job done and (running back Armando Gomez) to get the yard.”
It’s no different defensively, although Loudermilk usually faces double and triple teams with offensive linemen looking to cut his legs.
“He just blows things up,” Haag said. “When he plays at nose guard, he controls both ‘A’ gaps. If he plays defensive end, he basically shuts down one half of the field.”
Loudermilk didn’t always look like the beast he is now. While his 12-year-old brother, Devon, is already 5-8 and built more like a basketball player, Loudermilk has never been gangly.
“He was extremely overweight, and then about freshman year, he stopped drinking pop. He started watching what he was eating,” Howell said. “He started working out. He lost all that weight freshman and sophomore year, and then he started working out more on his muscle.
“… He did it on his own. He’s always been very dedicated to everything. He gets it set in his mind, and he’d go for it.”
Loudermilk’s athleticism has shined for years, and despite his weight, Haag said he’s agile and quick. A football, basketball and baseball player, he began throwing shot put and discus as a junior.
Despite Loudermilk’s skills, Haag was surprised when Wyoming called to offer Loudermilk a scholarship in February based on a highlight video.
Then Loudermilk met Kansas State coach Bill Snyder at the Wildcats’ junior day and received a scholarship offer less than a week later. Then Kansas offered.
Through March and April, college coaches visited West Elk High.
Arizona State defensive line coach “Jackie Shipp was the first Division I coach to come through the door,” Haag said. “I said, ‘You’re the first to ever walk through the doors of West Elk.’ He told me, ‘Coach, I definitely won’t be the last.’”
Sure enough, Missouri, Arkansas, Colorado and Vanderbilt joined in. Loudermilk also has offers from Oregon, Iowa State, Minnesota, Texas Tech and Wisconsin.
When Oregon initially called — and then offered a scholarship Aug. 17 —Loudermilk’s thoughts centered on his cousin because Damon would have been ecstatic at the interest shown by the Ducks.
“He probably would have said to sign the papers,” Loudermilk said with a laugh.
The recruiting process has been a bright spot in a difficult time for Loudermilk and his family.
And those bright spots will be needed even more as the memories of Wilson and Reid Russell, Loudermilk’s best friend who also died in the accident, are sure to come flooding back as the season opener at St. Paul on Sept. 4 approaches.
“He’s had his breakdowns. We all have,” said Howell, Loudermilk’s mom. “We talk about Damon all the time. But with Isaiahh, it’s the loss of a brother.
“Damon would want him to go on and succeed and do well. That’s just how Damon was.”